Hu Jintao





President of China

Born in December of 1942 in Shanghai, China; married Liu Yongqing; children: one son, one daughter. Education: Tsinghua University, degree in hydraulic engineering, 1964; Central Party School, 1980.

Addresses:

Office— Office of the President, State Council Secretariat, Zhong Nan Hai, Beijing, China.

Career

Political instructor in Water Conservancy Department of Tsinghua University, 1964–65; worked in hydropower research, 1965–68; laborer on Gansu Liujiaxia Power Station project, 1968–69; joined staff of Ministry of Water Conservancy and Power, working his way up through the ranks, 1969–74; deputy chief, Project Design Management Division, Gansu Provincial Construction Commission, 1974–1980; deputy secretary, Gansu Provincial Communist Youth League, 1980–82; alternate member, Central Committee of Chinese Communist Party, 1982; head of Communist Youth League, 1984; secretary, Guizhou Provincial Party Committee, 1985–88; party secretary, Tibet Autonomous Region, 1988–92; member, Politburo Standing Committee, 1992–98; director, Central Party School, 1993–2002; vice president, People's Republic of China, 1998–2002; general secretary, Chinese Communist Party, 2002—; president, People's Republic of China, 2003—.

Sidelights

For the leader of a country of 1.3 billion people, Hu Jintao remains something of a mystery to much of the outside world. Although Hu became

Hu Jintao
China's president in March of 2003, he had already ascended to the highest office in the land in the fall of 2002 when he was named to succeed Jiang Zemin as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Active in Chinese politics for nearly four decades, Hu has nevertheless spent much of his public life toiling in the background, out of the spotlight. But it is a sign of the high regard in which he has long been held by party leaders that for nearly a decade Hu served as director of the country's Central Party School. Based in Beijing, the school provides training for almost all of China's top–tier national leaders and also arbitrates most national debates over party ideology.

One of China's youngest leaders of the communist era, Hu is the only member of the communist party's previous politburo standing committee to be carried over onto the new committee, which formally took office in November of 2002. Although he is clearly the group's leader, his ability to significantly alter party policy—and thus the future course of the country—is likely to be inhibited by the presence on the committee of so many close allies of outgoing party leader Jiang Zemin. A technocrat by training, Hu is seen by many China observers as a champion of the country's poor, in contrast to his predecessor who focused much of his time and energy on working for the interests of China's growing middle class.

Another major question mark hanging over Hu's administration is the future direction of China's policy toward the United States. In a February of 2002 assessment of China's prospective new leader, John Tkacik of the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center wrote, "For a man destined to be China's supreme leader, he has rarely dealt with U.S. issues. In the past, he has complained of Cold War 'hegemony' and has voiced suspicion of American power. In 1994 a Hong Kong journal reported that Hu told a secret party meeting that 'strangling China's development' was 'a strategic principle pursued by the United States.' And one pseudonymous Chinese scholar reports that after the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in spring 1999, Hu told a closed–door conference of party and government workers that 'the hostile forces in the United States will never give up its attempt to subjugate China.'"

One of the first big challenges faced by Hu was the epidemic of the potentially deadly viral infection known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), believed to have originated in China. In June of 2003, according to Agence France Presse, Hu told reporters, "The Chinese people are full of confidence and determination to bring this epidemic under proper control and we are sure mankind will be victorious over the epidemic." By the end of that month, the World Health Organization dropped Beijing—the last of the Chinese cities hard hit by SARS—from its health–related travel advisories. Although the Chinese government came under fire for its early failure to fully disclose the full extent of its SARS outbreak, it appeared that the measures taken to halt the spread of SARS had been successful.

The eldest of three children, Hu was born in Shanghai in December of 1942. His family, which previously had enjoyed prosperity in the tea trade, had fallen on hard times, undoubtedly exacerbated by the ever–tightening Japanese occupation of China's largest city. The family's chain of tea shops, which once were found in cities throughout several of the country's coastal provinces, had been reduced to a single outlet in Shanghai by the time of Hu's birth. While he was still an infant, the family moved from Shanghai to Taizhou county in Jiangsu Province, where Hu grew up and attended high school.

In 1959 Hu was granted admission to China's prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. A promising scholar and the youngest student in his class, Hu specialized in hydropower generation in the school's hydraulic engineering department and eventually earned his degree in hydraulic engineering. Early in his college career, he was identified as a potential leader by senior members of the school's party organization and groomed for eventual membership in the party. He also developed a close relationship with Tsinghua President Jiang Nanxiang, who maintained close ties with local leaders in Beijing and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. With Jiang's approval Hu was accepted into the party on a probationary basis in April of 1964. He had already completed his studies at Tsinghua and had stayed on as a political assistant. With his elevation to probationary status, Hu was appointed a researcher at the university and also became a political instructor. He attained full party membership in 1965. During his years at Tsinghua Hu met and married a young woman named Liu Yongqing. The couple has two grown children.

Hu was still a political instructor at Tsinghua University when China's Cultural Revolution began in the fall of 1966. For the next two years the Chinese capital—particularly its institutions of higher learning—was torn by civil strife between thousands of college students of the so–called Heaven Faction and others in the Earth Faction. Caught up in the struggle, Hu was eventually denounced for his role in the civil turmoil and banished, along with thousands of others—students and instructors as well—to the hinterlands.

Hu, sent to the poverty–stricken, desert province of Gansu, was selected to work on the Gansu Liujiaxia Power Station project because of his background in hydropower engineering. After serving for a year as a laborer on the power station project, he was assigned to another local project managed by the national government's Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power. He quickly rose through the ranks to a party position with some clout. Transferred in 1974 to work as a secretary and deputy chief of the Gansu Provincial Construction Commission's Project Design Management Division, Hu soon came to the attention of provincial party chief Song Ping, an ultra–conservative revolutionary. It was at Song's recommendation that Hu in 1980 was accepted into the Central Party School in Beijing in 1980. While attending Beijing classes for cadre leaders, Hu was named by Song to serve as deputy secretary of the Gansu Provincial Communist Youth League (CYL).

In 1982, Song managed to win for Hu an appointment to the secretariat of the national CYL. Hu also became president of the All–China Youth Federation. By the end of 1984, Hu had advanced to the top post in the CYL secretariat. His involvement in the CYL soon brought Hu into close contact with Hu Yaobang, a pioneering revolutionary who at the time was seeking to promote both economic reforms and great political openness. For his support of the elder Hu's goals, which brought him into conflict with some factions within the CYL, Hu was rescued from possible repercussions and further entanglements in Beijing by being named provincial party committee secretary in Guizhou province.

As he had during his years of service in Gansu, Hu made it his business to familiarize himself with the land and people of the new province to which he had been assigned. He eventually visited virtually every corner of the Guizhou. During his very first month in the province, Hu embarked on an eleven–day tour that brought him to some of Guizhou's more remote counties. As he traveled, Hu frequently dropped into the homes of local residents to inquire into the problems of day–to–day life they found most pressing. Fred Hu, who is unrelated but knew Hu Jintao while the latter was a student at Tsinghua, told Time of a visit made to the Guizhou home of a former classmate. Although his friend was out at the time, Hu spent a couple of hours drinking tea and speaking with the classmate's parents. "Only after he left did the parents slowly realize that he was the new party secretary," Fred Hu said.

It was in Guizhou that Hu first provided a clue as to his policies for dealing with dissent. When student demonstrators at Guizhou University, in a burst of pro–democracy fervor, seized the school's main lecture hall in late 1986, Hu rejected a hard–line approach and instead visited the campus personally to persuade students to end their protest. Writer Ge Shiru, who witnessed the events, told Time that Hu "did a beautiful job winning over the students by treating them as equals." Hu's masterful handling of the Guizhou crisis helped win for him in December of 1988 an appointment as party secretary for the Tibet Autonomous Region.

For some years Tibetans had enjoyed a degree of cultural freedom, but it was not enough to satisfy the mountainous region's people who continued to press for independence. Only three months after taking the party's reins in Tibet, Hu found himself faced with another political crisis when a group of monks demonstrated in the streets of Lhasa with homemade Tibetan flags. This time, the crisis was not handled nearly as well as had been the case in Guizhou. Government police fired upon the demonstrators, setting off even more widespread civil unrest, which forced Beijing to declare martial law. Approximately 70 Tibetans were killed in the riots that followed. Although Hu remained the nominal party chief in Tibet for the next three years, he spent most of his time in Beijing and not Lhasa.

Despite the unfortunate outcome of the political standoff in Tibet, Hu managed to stay in the good graces of the country's top leaders. In 1992 Deng Xiaoping, who had resigned most of his official posts but remained one of the most powerful figures in China, brought Hu into the politburo's seven–member Standing Committee. Most observers believed that Hu, the youngest member on the committee, had been selected to be groomed as a successor to Jiang Zemin. Only a year later Hu was given control of the Central Party School, where he moved the focus away from old–line Marxist orthodoxy to the consideration of fresh new ideas, including political reform.

Chinese liberal intellectuals developed nicknames for each of the seven members of the politburo's Standing Committee. According to Yao Jin in a China Brief article, Hu was nicknamed "sunzi," which literally means "grandson" but is often used to denote "yes–man." Hu, the youngest man on the committee, was frequently assigned thankless tasks by Jiang as a test of the younger man's loyalty. One such assignment was briefing party workers on the implications of the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in the spring of 1999. In another thorny task, Hu was assigned by Jiang in 2001 to counter hardliners' attacks on Jiang's proposal to open the party to capitalists. Walking a fine line in order to avoid infuriating either conservatives or reformists, Hu temporarily suspended two left–wing publications for "rectification" (according to Yao) but declined to close them down altogether. He also warned the rest of the nation's media not to publish future articles critical of Jiang's policy change.

Hu's ability to deal quickly and efficiently with the tasks assigned him by Jiang as well as his stewardship of the Central Party School accelerated his rise to the very top ranks of China's leadership. In March of 1998 Hu was named state vice president by Jiang, who also took pains to point out that while Hu had proven his ability to quiet political turmoil, particularly from the party's left wing, former premier Li Peng had shown an equal ability to put down turmoil from the right. Jiang thus set up a power struggle between Hu as leader of the party's reform movement and Li as its leading hardliner. In the end, the reformers prevailed, lifting Hu to the highest office in the land in 2003.

Considering his dramatic rise to the top of China's Communist Party and government, Hu has ruffled relatively few feathers in the process. His ability to keep almost everyone happy may well be attributed to the deliberately low profile he's assigned to his own political philosophy, only fragments of which have been subtly hinted. As Yao observed in the China Brief article, "A Chinese saying best describes the risk of showing one's clear political or ideological leanings: 'The bird that sticks its head out gets shot.'" Hu Jintao has been careful enough to act as 'a bird that keeps its head down.'"

Sources

Books

Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2003.

Periodicals

Agence France Presse, June 3, 2003.

Business Asia, February 2003, p. 28.

China Brief, November 21, 2001; January 14, 2003, p. 3.

Economist, March 1, 2003.

Fortune, November 11, 2002, p. 155.

Newsweek, November 25, 2002, p. 36; December 30, 2002/January 6, 2003, p. 76.

Time International, April 22, 2002, p. 14.

U.S. News & World Report, November 25, 2002, p. 14.

Online

"Background Information on Hu Jintao," International Campaign for Tibet, http://www.savetibet.org/news/NewsPrint.cfm?ID=981&c=27 (June 24, 2003).

"Hu Jintao," People's Daily, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/data/people/hujintao.shtml (June 24, 2003).

"Profile: Hu Jintao," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia–pacific/2404129.stm (June 24, 2003).

"Heritage Lectures: Who's Hu? Assessing China's Heir Apparent, Hu Jintao," Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org/Research/AsiaandthePacific/HL739.cfm (June 24, 2003).

Transcripts

Morning Edition, National Public Radio, November 15, 2002; March 19, 2003.

Don Amerman



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